I recently made a pilgrimage that many have made in the last few months back to our old neighborhood to visit a long time acquaintance. Now this isn’t a person we have known for years, but a building, a building that has stood since 1925. It is an icon and landmark for anyone who grew up on the south side of Wheaton, Illinois or routinely drove Roosevelt Rd. thru the Western suburb. For a place where I have just as many bad memories as good, I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would hold such deep emotions for such a place.
I first became acquainted with Wheaton Central High School, formerly Wheaton Community High School, in 1984 as a pip-squeak, little freshman trying desperately to find my classes and forever trying to open those orange freshman lockers.
For four long years, Wheaton Central was my academic home. As a teenager, I was less than impressed with the building let alone the history that surrounded me.
As an adult though, I feel honored to have walked the same halls as people like;
James H. Monroe, class of 1962, a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroic and sacrificial actions in 1967 in Vietnam. (Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Illinois is named in honor of him)
Bob Woodward, class of 1961, famed reporter of the Watergate scandal
Samuel K. Skinner, class of 1956, United States Secretary of Transportation ’89-’91 then Chief of Staff For President George H.W. Bush ’91-‘92
And I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention two brothers that spent their formative years as WCHS Tigers, Jim Belushi, class of 1972, and John Belushi, class of 1967.
Those though are not the most important names that I will remember. I will never forget those teachers that gave of themselves to educate thousands of kids over the many years.
Many of those teachers made a personal impact on myself;
English teachers Lynda Coffman and Robert Ledbetter
Math teacher Bob Cherry
History teacher John Fuller
Psychology teacher Daryl Fitts
Nearly the entire Biology department
And many, many more
These are the people that helped influence me and, in a small part, the way I see the world today. They encouraged me, challenged me and made me think.
Wheaton Central was a place that even though I was going through intense internal battles with who I was during that time, there were brief moments, whether it was marching on to the football field with the band or being a teacher's aid my senior year, that I felt connected and part of something. Many of the people I met and the friendships I made during that time have only strengthened over the years since we all graduated. For as long as I live, I will bleed black and orange.
Modern Technology and rising costs of remodeling dealt the final blow to a once proud school. But the Tiger pride has not faded away. Today the Tiger traditions are carried on by new generations at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School a few mile down the road in Warrenville, Illinois.
But as I drove passed the building that has been left abandoned for several years, slightly overgrown by time and scared by vandals, it was as though I was looking on at a condemned man, locked away behind a chain link fence. The fence shrouded your view so that the world may be shielded just a little bit from the horror of it's death. The executioner stood silently to the side waiting for the order to swing it’s might blow.
If the walls and stairs and doors and desks of this place could talk, the stories it could tell of nearly a century of education. But it is up to us to tell those stories. Each person that walked across that stage in the gymnasium and received their diploma and exited out door 15 has their own story and their own memories and their own emotions tied to this place.
As so many other things have changed and disappeared over the years, so we must get use to the idea of no longer retreating back to our youth and visiting this old friend. It has come time for us to say our final good byes.
So for all of us that have walked the halls of Wheaton Central High School, we Tigers remember our friend and raise a glass for one last toast to the building that will forever live on in each one of us.